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Election Night Drama Unfolds on a Silent Screen at Registrar


SANTA ANA — One by one they came during the long election night vigil to crowd around a single computer screen, watching the making and breaking of the county's political careers.

Campaign volunteers with cell phones in hand, a few reporters and the occasional candidate spent much of election night and early morning in the barren civil-service decor of the Orange County registrar of voters, phoning in results to political party-goers, relatives, newspapers, television and radio stations and news wires.

While candidates and campaign workers popped champagne corks and swallowed assorted hors d'oeuvres at political soirees throughout Orange County, the election returns that inspired their cheers and tears scrolled rhythmically across the computer screen placed for public view on the registrar's office counter.

It was a rapt audience.

As evening turned into dawn, the seesaw race between Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and Democratic challenger Loretta Sanchez filled most of one radio reporter's narrative, made by telephone after his broadcast equipment broke down.

Dornan himself paid homage to the solitary computer screen, arriving with a small entourage at the registrar's office shortly after 1:30 a.m. to nervously monitor up-to-the-minute results. At 1:39 a.m., Dornan faced the possibility of defeat, noting the 14-vote lead held by Sanchez in the 46th Congressional District race.

"She's either going to be a minority member surrounded by five Republicans, or I'm going to maintain my majority and keep track of the 900 men who were left behind wounded in Korea," he announced to the weary band of onlookers.

Michael Sanchez, the 25-year-old brother of Dornan's opponent, refused the congressman's offer to shake hands.

"I don't respect him," Sanchez said after the congressman left. "If Clinton reached over to shake my hand, I'd shake it. I won't touch Dornan."

It was a flash of drama in an otherwise low-key evening at the registrar's office.

But there was also a bit of drama earlier on for the family of Santa Margarita Water District candidate Jim Mizell, who brought his wife and two teenage sons to watch the computer screen a while, to savor the victory of their family-run campaign.

"I asked all the guys who can vote at my school to vote for him," said son Andrew Mizell, a 17-year-old Trabuco Hills High School student who helped design his father's campaign signs aided by his 14-year-old brother, Jim.

Former county employee Stephanie Haas, a moonlighting Placentia insurance office secretary, spent the night dictating election results to the Voter News Service, which in turn distributed the information to CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and the Associated Press.

"I guess they trust me," she said, pondering the mischief she could create.

Election night worker and disappointed Dole supporter Dan Weber came into the registrar's office around 2 a.m. to watch the computer screen. He had spent the night processing ballots in some hidden chamber where election workers were kept unaware of the election results. He blamed Dole's loss on "Clinton's charisma."

"Clinton's done things that are deceptive, possibly even criminal, but nobody's proved it," the 45-year-old unemployed aerospace worker said. "It's like Nixon."

But in the all-night doughnut and Chinese fast-food shop on the corner outside the registrar's office, co-owner Mark Tantisukarom said he was glad the president won reelection.

"He's young and I think he's a very smart person," said Tantisukarom, a Thai native who has lived in the United States for 30 years. "During the last couple years, business has been doing a lot better. I think it will stay better."

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